Bronco Mendenhall knew it was time to leave BYU after he conceded there was nothing else he could do.
Mendenhall was the head of some memorable teams when the Cougars were in the Mountain West, but when the program chose to leave the conference and become independent, that success faded.
BYU’s best season as an independent came in its first year in 2011 when it went 10-3. It finished the year ranked No. 25, but the high hopes for independence would fade quickly with three consecutive eight-win seasons. The Cougars won nine games this past season, but lost its bowl game to Utah, the third consecutive bowl loss.
Mendenhall admitted he was feeling the rigors of the independent schedule, which meant playing a host of Power Five teams just to remain relevant in the eyes of the College Football Playoff Committee. The strategy rarely paid off.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable,” Mendenhall told USA Today of BYU’s independent status. “I was trying everything I knew how to do to advance and pioneer that part. If I were to be really blunt about it, I took it as far as I could go in relation to that setting of independence.
“After all that and setting all that foundation and direction, there became a point where it was guardian, custodian of that direction – where it was, I’m not sure now if I’m one supposed to be doing that here.”
Mendehall acknowledged that knowing his limitations at BYU — and the constant grumbling from fans for the Cougars to regain their prominence — played a role in the decision to seek out the opportunity at Virginia.
Mendenhall said the thought came to him one day when offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who is now the OC at Virginia, mentioned that Mendenhall would be a good fit for the Cavaliers. When Mike London was fired, things seemed to fall into place.
“Many thought I would never leave BYU,” Mendenhall told USA Today. “It wasn’t an option. It was never conceivable that might happen. I’d just keep going.
“There was a significant change toward the end of last season. It was pretty clear – no, that’s an understatement. It was crystal clear that I had done what I was capable of and supposed to do at BYU with the time I was there.”
The Salt Lake Tribune noted that Mendenhall’s wife, Holly, had become “disillusioned” with Provo because of the way Mendehall was treated following the slide of the team. It was no secret she was looking for a change.
"I started to feel like I was not supposed to be the coach at BYU," Mendenhall told USA Today. "And that's a personal and specific thing, to either faith or intuition. But I'd never had that feeling before when other options came."
After 11 consecutive seasons of winning records and playing in bowl games, Mendenhall comes into a rebuilding situation at Virginia. The Cavaliers have not played in a bowl game since 2011 and have had just one winning season since 2008.
It’s a similar situation as the one Mendenhall inherited at BYU and a challenge he relishes moving forward.
- - - - - - -
And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook